When I had something mysterious that felt like chronic fatigue syndrome back in 2012, I did everything I could for my health. But nothing worked. So I listened to an intuition that the thing I needed to heal was not six more months of the paleo diet or bone broth: I decided the cure would be tango in Buenos Aires, something that intuitively I believed would make my immune cells dance with each other. That intuition paid off. I moved to Buenos Aires for eight months in 2012 and my condition improved; my energy came back.
Tango heals many conditions. A lot of people get into tango because they are going through a break-up or divorce. The tango embrace helps people get over the loss of a relationship. But tango doesn’t only heal a broken heart. Tango has been shown heal or give relief to the effects of Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, loneliness and depression.
In this talk, I speak about the Healing Power of Tango and why and how tango heals. . . physically and psychologically. I talk about:
–tango as a mirror to see your patterns in relationships
–tango as a tool to build confidence and attitude and improve your posture
–tango as a tool for healing trauma
Do you have a story of healing through tango? I’d love to hear it. Please share as a comment or send an email.
While I was in Paris for three weeks this July and August, I found often that Parisians were not that aware of the beauty surrounding them. Of course I was on vacation; they were living real life. They deal with the everyday challenges of living in a big city–trains that stall mid-ride, long commutes, and high rents for tiny apartments.
But still the beauty of Paris is so pas mal. (So not bad.)
One night I joined some friends–new and old–by the river Seine at an outdoor milonga (a milonga is a place where people dance tango). As is the custom in Paris in the summer, we gathered for a picnic–wine, cheese, and also potato chips. At times I felt overwhelmed, flooded by beauty even, of the Seine, the boats floating by, the Haussman-era architecture, and the people dancing outside. The Parisians around me, as much as I enjoyed their company, seemed a bit eh about the scene.
My American friend Alexa who has been living in Paris for the last year had invited me. I turned to her and said something along the lines of, “These people don’t even see how beautiful Paris is!” She laughed, “It’s a metaphor for life, we’re all living in Paris but we don’t even see it.”
Isn’t that true?
The eye can become accustomed to beauty. The “hedonic treadmill” theory posits that human beings return to a set point of happiness no matter what positive or negative events happen to us. Would I be happier if I lived bathed in the beauty of Paris? Would I even see it if I lived there? I don’t know. I would be curious to find out.
Not everyone who comes to Paris finds the experience so blissful. Some people come to Paris and get Paris Syndrome. Paris Syndrome mainly afflicts Japanese people who come to Paris with larger-than-life romantic fantasies of artists wearing berets and high-fashion models. Tourists who suffer from Paris Syndrome get disappointed by the reality of a sprawling, chaotic, extremely multicultural city not matching their hopes–they may even enter a state of psychological turmoil of anxiety, depression, irritation and prejudice. There are doctors who treat patients for Paris Syndrome!
You need not suffer from Paris Syndrome, nor act like Paris is just blah. The difference, I believe, is the willingness to be a flaneur.
To be a flaneur is to wander the city streets, to see and be seen, and there is no city better for wandering than Paris. The concept of the “flanerie” (the wander) was itself created in Paris by Charles Baudelaire. You can certainly go to museums like the Louvre in Paris, but the city itself is a museum: all you have to do is walk at random. Parisians also call this a “balade” (a “stroll”) and “balader” is an important verb.
To discover the beauty of Paris it doesn’t hurt to meet Parisians. You can go on a solo balade (stroll), as a solitary flaneur, or you can balader with a friend or lover. You can also meet people for strolls through couchsurfing.org (join the Paris group and look for their events–the Paris couchsurfing organizers are quite nice and friendly) and look on meetup.com. I joined a Paris Shut Up and Write and went on a Hidden Places of Paris tour. If you’re online dating, go ahead and change your location to Paris! Who knows? You’ll either meet the love of your life or maybe you’ll find a tour guide, or at least someone who gives you a different perspective on the City of Light.
Speaking French helps but it’s by no means necessary. Most Parisians speak English. I found Parisians to be friendlier than their reputation and made new friends.
By the way I also had some really terrible things happen to me in Paris during those three weeks. On my very last night, I was a little too carefree with my purse at an outdoor milonga by the Seine and someone stole my purse–containing, my airbnb keys, my phone, my wallet (credit cards and driver’s license, and an amazing G-spot vibrator that I had just bought at a very cool sex shop Passage du Désir in Le Marais!) while I was dancing. The horror!
I will definitely have to get back to Paris soon to repurchase that stolen G-spot vibrator!
I also experienced seven instances of sexual harassment in one day in one of the edgier neighborhoods that I stayed in. Paris is cracking down on sexual harassment now and Parisian women are marching to call attention to the problem.
It was not all La Vie En Rose.
Still, though, I loved this time in Paris and I dream about returning. It is absolutely clear to me that Paris in summer is a kind of heaven. If I don’t live in Paris in this lifetime, I want to spend more summers in Paris.
Here are some hidden – or not so hidden – things I think are great in Paris. I found these off-the-radar spots by being a flaneur (wandering at random), checking out events I found online, and making new friends.
Paris in summer is exuberant with picnics! Picnicking might be a spring and fall activity too. Check the many parks.
In my first week I joined two picnics by the Seine and the park Buttes-Chaumont, and by the time I had left I had been part of at least seven picnics all over the city! When in my life have I picknicked so much?
The picnic phenom is great:
1) it’s a universal way of being social; everyone is outside, gathering with friends by the Seine, canals, or in parks
2) it’s cheap and easy, you just pick up food in a Franprix or another supermarket
3) Rosé (rosé seems to be the official wine of summer picnics).
I joined this tour of “Lieux Insolites” (“Hidden Places”) of Paris, which I found on Meetup.com group “Promenades et Randonees.” Every weekend the organizer Christophe gathers people by a metro stop in an arrondissement and shows them unexpected places in Paris. It costs 5 euros. We walked around and discovered a Russian Orthodox church, where we learned about Russian immigration to Paris after the Bolshevik Revolution; a Turkish bath; and the Cimetiere de Montparnasse (where we saw the graves of Serge Gainbourg, Sartre and de Beauvoir, and Charles Baudelaire).
Above is the grave of Sartre and de Beauvoir in Cimetiere de Montparnasse. Note the lipstick kisses on the grave. The grave was also covered with Paris metro tickets left as a memorial to the writers.
The tour was not only great for seeing hidden spots of the city, it was also great for meeting people–Parisians and visitors alike. The niceness level of the group was very high. I met a woman from Georgia (the country) studying political science in Paris and we have stayed in touch.
During the summer months (and I believe starting in the spring) you will find people dancing along the Seine every night of the week by the Jardin Tino Rossi (metro: Jussieau).
Every night of the week people gather in a series of circular areas lined by steps (like the above) to dance kizomba, tango, salsa, swing, lindy hop, folkloric dance, and more. It’s stunning.
If you wanted to you could go from circle to circle dancing different dances.
Most of the activity seems to be pure social dancing but I also saw a few dance classes. At the same time, people also gather nearby just to picnic, and the Paris Bla-Bla Language Exchange meets every Thursday (and in the summer in this general area) for their picnic language exchange. So you can also go just to enjoy some wine, socialize, and watch the dancing.
I stayed in Belleville for my first week in Paris and adored the neighborhood. It’s the perfect multicultural, friendly mix, so friendly I couldn’t believe that I thought Paris was not friendly before. Walking the Rue de Belleville is a fun urban flaneur experience as you move through ethnicities. If you make it to the Metro Jourdain area of Belleville (a very charming spot) you absolutely must visit this great bra store which I wrote an entire blog post about.
I found La Reciclerie completely “par hasard”–randomly. It’s really quite extraordinary. La Reciclerie is in the 18th arrondissement right by the metro and it’s quite possibly the most amazing establishment I have ever randomly stumbled on in my flaneries (wanders). Why?
The Reciclerie is a cafe, a restaurant, a workshop/atelier for repairing electronics and household goods, a garden where they grow the food they serve at the restaurant, and an urban farm and this all overlooks the old train tracks of the old train that circled Paris. It’s also a workshop space. While I was there, an “atelier de conversation” – conversation workshop – to help immigrants practice French was going on. Sunday was a sophrologie workshop – which I gather is about the art of relaxing the body. If I do the Quirkyalone Paris Adventure surely we will come here.
Whether you dance tango or not, it would be well worth your time to drop by the metro Trocadero by the Eiffel Tower to watch the tango. I don’t know that I ever saw a more romantic backdrop for watching people dance tango. The most romantic dance in the most romantic city. It’s well worth the trip.
The Trocadero milonga was happening nightly in the summer when I was in Paris last. You can find out about tango events including the nightly Trocadero milonga here.
The soldes are the sales, and the sales come at quite specific times in Paris in January and July. These are the times to shop! I got those gorgeous silver sandals during the summer sales at a great price.
Buttes-Aux-Cailles is a quiet hilltop neighborhood in the 13th, a kind of isolated village, that’s very charming and little known and very worth your while for the stroll. Here’s a walking tour itinerary.
The parks in Paris are the best of any city I know. Jardin Luxembourg and Buttes Chaumont are my favorite parks. Life is better when you can sit on one of these extremely comfortable publicly provided chairs. Such a zone of peace.
Joe Yang, a tango teacher from Madison, Wisconsin, recently interviewed me for Joe’s Tango Podcast. Joe’s podcast is for people who are who are starting to fall in love with the dance of tango and want to learn from different experts in the field. I share a bit of my own tango story and talked about my work combining tango and life coaching through the Tango Adventure and with my one-on-one coaching clients who take up tango. We talked about my tango writing too (right now, I’m deep at work on my memoir Wet, which is a journey of healing the effects of trauma through sensual experiences, so tango plays a big role in the story).
We literally talked about all things tango. Joe started off asking me the moment/s I knew I wanted tango would be a big part of my life, and we got to talking about advice I would give beginning dancers. I’ll give you a little teaser with an answer to that last question: RELAX! Relaxing and being in the moment is the most important piece of advice I would give. How do you relax? Many people want the answer to be a glass of wine. There is a better answer. Surrender to the hug.
Here’s some of the other stuff we talked about:
The transformative power of tango–tango has always been about way more than tango for me, and that’s how I teach it. Tango really is a mirror for our lives and how we operate in relationships
Advice for beginners to enjoy a milonga
The emotional roller coaster of being a beginning tango student (at least it was for me)
Tango teaching philosophies: when you let go of being perfect, learning tango can be fun and easy
The embrace! The essence of tango is the embrace; if you want to feel a true tango embrace, that’s a big reason to try tango in Buenos Aires
Tango communities–what makes them good and what makes them snobby (the dark side of tango)
Healing through tango! Tango’s healing power is really important to me. I’ve been exploring this topic for myself over the last seven years and using tango as a tool with my clients to heal the effects of sexual trauma in particular.
I shared a lot about the Tango Adventure in Buenos Aires too! If you’re interested in joining us and want to learn a bit more, definitely give this podcast a listen. I explain to Joe how I first got the idea to start the Tango Adventure from my own experience of healing through tango in many ways. I wanted to share the knowledge I’ve collected through a week-long immersion in Buenos Aires.
With us, you can learn the true essence of tango that goes beyond steps and in many ways you just can’t learn that anywhere else but Buenos Aires.
Here’s the podcast to give it a listen!
Listen on iTunes: http://apple.co/2eOGdlc
Or Soundcloud: http://bit.ly/2zYANMk
Or Stitcher: http://bit.ly/2xNrUWA
A current to-do list. There is a madness to my methods.
Sometimes people will send me messages asking, how do you make this work? How do you earn a living, find clients or get published? I never really know what to say because the process of building a life as a writer, life coach, and now a transformative tango guide was slow and winding, full of so many twist and turns. You could say the path has been full of to-do lists. See above.
I’ve been writing professionally since 1997 when I wrote for the Village Voice, and I’ve been at work on creating a business since 2011. I have learned from so many people on both fronts and I’m still learning. There’s no one single way to answer the question.
If you have your own business or you have thought about creating one, your Facebook feed might be full of ads about programs that cost $10,000 and promise a quick-fix answer. While there is a lot of helpful education out there, and I’ve benefited from taking many classes and working with coaches (in fact, I never could have gotten this far without all that learning), there is no single magic bullet. If you’re constructing a quirky business or writing career, you have to learn from your own path. From experimentation, leaps, and experience. Each person’s journey will be unique. If you want to wrote a book, of course your book will be unique too.
SEO expert and entrepreneur lady Cinthia Pacheco interviewed me for this her podcast Digitally Overwhelmed. Cinthia helps women online entrepreneurs with analytics and content strategy.
We talk about:
* Bringing together disparate interests in your business–or do you have to focus on one thing? Is it OK to have an SEO business and post pictures of your cat? Is it OK to talk about quirkyalone and tango?
* Fears of failure. I still work with these all the time.
* The importance of finding your people for support. Indispensable. No one does it alone.
I recommend that you listen to this if you’re interested in building your own quirky business. We try to be as real and helpful as possible!
caption: Buenos Aires amantes (lovers) can be passionate. Hernan hung this sign up in the street for Flor, “I love you with all my life. Never will we be far apart again.” The phone number on the right: call it if you want to make a sign!
Argentines are very expressive, and their Spanish is distinct from, for example, Mexican Spanish. There are plenty of books and websites out there that explain Buenos Aires slang, or lunfardo–slang words you will never learn in a high school Spanish class.
Over the last four years of living in Buenos Aires I have learned there is a particular modern lunfardo, or slang, when it comes to dating, sex, love and relationships. Certain words would come up again and again. Once I understood the words I understood the culture and what was happening in my own life.
So I have put together this dating glossary for you. I thought it would be a service to the many women (and men) who come to Argentina looking for love. (Or who simply find themselves here, dating). Dating can be bewildering in another culture, and language can help guide you. Knowledge is power. When you are able to name a behavior, or a way of being, you are able to say: I want this, and I don’t want that. You can say you want a chongo, or not. You’ll know what it means to put someone “in the freezer” and why so many men and women call the opposite sex “hysterical.”
Whether you come here on vacation or you live here, here are some words to help you date in Buenos Aires.
Chamuyero: Once I was at an Internations expat event at a bar talking to two Porteños (Porteño means Buenos Aires resident), and I asked them, what is the essence of Buenos Aires? They said, with impish glee, chamuyo.
Chamuyo is bullshit. Sometimes poetic bullshit, but bullshit nonetheless. A chamuyero is a bullshitter, par excellence. Chamuyero is truly the ultimate porteño word. While Rio de Janeiro has its malandros (charming tricksters who do anything to avoid work), Buenos Aires has its chamuyeros.
A chamuyero talks in circles but really they are talking about nothing. You can’t pin them down. Everything they say is airy and unreliable.
In dating, chamuyo is flattery. Chamuyo is quite related to the piropo, a flattering or romantic compliment to seduce a woman. Piropos can be a sport; there are plenty of websites listing piropos to use with a woman or a girlfriend or wife: For example, here’s an Argentine piropo submitted on a user-generated piropo website: “Con un mate y tu compania ya es resuelta la vida!” (With mate and your company, life is already resolved!) That’s a sweet one, and not too over the top. I could believe that piropo or get off on believing it.
The difference between a piropo and chamuyo is chamuyo is clearly bullshit–and totally generic. My chamuyo red flag goes up when a guy starts using the word “princesa,” for example. You can filter out the chamuyo or you can just get off the chamuyo, knowing it’s only that. See also: Lie to me, I love it when you lie to me.
A chamuyero milonguero (tango dancer and frequenter of the milongas, events where we dance tango) may flatter you by telling you what a wonderful dancer you are. In this case, I’m all for the chamuyo. Bring it on! I love it when a guy tells me I dance well–or even better, when he talks about our dance connection (if it feels true). Argentine men are much more likely to give flattery during a dance than American men. A little flattery is actually great technique–it helps me relax and dance better.
Translation: Ah, you left. I thought you kept partying and you had found yourself a chongo for a touch and go Hahahaha Rest! LOLLLLLL Could be! But today no
Chongo: I learned about “chongo” in the best way, from one of my favorite Argentine tanguera friends. A “chongo” is a “touch and go”—usually a man (they don’t talk so much about chongas, though it’s possible to be one) who wants sex and nothing else. As she explained to me, if you’re bored, alone, and you don’t have anyone else in your life, maybe you want to send a message to your “chongo.” As if on cue, just after she told me about the “chongo,” another woman walked behind us at a table on the milonga and said a guy was “re chongo” (really chongo). This word strikes me as powerful! A lot of men (and perhaps women) want to move really fast in Buenos Aires and have sex quickly. A good percentage of them equally move on. Chongos are into seduction, quick sex, y nada mas (nothing more). These people would be chongos, or chongas, and you can decide whether you want that or not. Knowledge is power, ladies and gentlemen.
Histérico: I don’t think it’s possible to date in Buenos Aires for longer than a few months without learning the word “histérico.” It’s really a must that you learn about this word.
What is “histérico”? In English, hysterical means, among other things, “feeling or showing extreme and unrestrained emotion.” In Buenos Aires, “histérico” is mostly about drama and game-playing. A histérico is insanely seductive and passionate until you start reciprocating, then he or she disappears, and then begins the endless-hot-cold behavior. Histéricos are inconsistent. Not stable or trusted. In essence,histéricos enjoy the chase—not just once, but over and over again. So don’t take it personally if they disappear. A histérico is like a serial chongo but with more drama. Love is a battlefield. Buenos Aires is like anywhere else, there are also men and women who want relationships, so you can look for the signs of histérico or chongo and make choices accordingly.
Once you have a name for the condition of histérico, it’s quite helpful. I’ve helped two women realize they were involved with histéricos, and as soon as they have a name for the condition they seemed relieved and were better able to let go and move on.
“In the Freezer”: A guy who probably wanted to be my chongo taught me the expression “in the freezer.” He was talking about a past relationship and said that he had dated a woman for a few months, but then the relationship went “in the freeezer.” “What does that mean?” I asked. “We stopped talking for a while, then we started talking again.” I found this expression to be hilarious. I tried hard to stifle my laughter. I don’t want anyone to put me in the freezer. “Please baby, don’t put me in the freezer! I am not a chicken breast or a bag of peas!”
When talking about this expression with my friend Alexandra, she suggested an additional interpretation: If you’re going out with someone but there’s someone else you want to save for later, you might put the second person “in the freezer” to possibly take out later to thaw.
Mimosa: People in Buenos Aires are affectionate and they kiss to greet (just one kiss, as opposed to the French, who do two kisses on either cheeks.) Men too kiss each other. It’s quite a contrast to the American handshake or back-slap. I see a therapist in Buenos Aires–a very Porteno thing to do, self-knowledge is valued here. When I see my (female) therapist, we kiss each other on the cheeks hello and goodbye. A hello or goodbye kiss with a therapist would never happen in the States.
Mimosa is a word that expresses affection–but in the context of being lovers. Many Argentines have talked to me about the importance of “mimos”–mimos are like love pats and cuddles. I think of a cat as being mimosa. A snuggly person is mimosa. This might be my favorite word in the Buenos AIres dating dictionary because I am mimosa.
Mujeron: A very sexy, va-va-voom Sophia Loren kind of woman, in full possession of her sexuality and sensuality. Buenos Aires is full of mujerones.
Pedazo de pelotudo: Piece of shit more or less. You might throw these words at a histérico, if you felt like it.
Pasional: Passionate. Argentines are very passionate, whether we are talking about love, or football. See the above message from Hernan to Flor.
Pendeviejo/a: Pendejo means young person. A pendeviejo is an older person who dresses like a young person. (Viejo means old.) Imagine, a woman in her 70s. From behind you see her shapely body in tight jeans or a sparkly sequined dress and you think she is 30 then she turns around and you see she is rocking 70.
The pendevieja’s lack of shame in rocking the forever 21 look after retirement is rather spectacular. There are many pendeviejas in certain milongas. Pendeviejo/as don’t pay attention to the rules. They wear tight, flashy clothing that I never felt comfortable wearing, even when I was in my 20s. Buenos Aires is the place to be a pendevieja. You can be a pendeviejo too, an older guy in a youthful t-shirt, jeans and sneakers.
Telo: Telos are hotel rooms that you rent by the hour to have sex if you don’t have a private place at home, or you are on a date.
A few more tips on dating in Buenos Aires:
Confirming dates: Whereas in the US or Europe when you make a date with someone you can generally expect they will show up. It’s not really like that in Buenos Aires. People confirm with texts that the date is happening.
Lateness: Being late is more normal, and sometimes people think that is acceptable even on a first date (we are talking 20-30 minutes late). Sometimes the histericos will use lateness as a way to show you that you’re not that important or to play power games. I would steer clear of anyone who is not respectful with your time. (That can rule out some people.)
Online dating and apps: People in Buenos Aires are using Tinder, Happn, Bumble, and OKCupid. Your results will vary. I can say based on experience that you can meet good people on these apps—over four years, I’ve met a boyfriend, a lover, and a long-term friend. I can also say most people don’t put much effort into their profiles (the profiles are shorter, fewer words, than the States and Europe) and the swiping can be extremely depressing. Overall I would say OKCupid is the best bet because people are more likely to fill out and read a profile. The mobile apps are so geared for superficiality, which means chongos. If you want a chongo though, go for it!
Have any words to add to the Buenos Aires Dating Dictionary? I am sure there are more. Please add them in the comments. I’d love to see how tong this list can go.
Listen to the 1938 tango Song “El Chamuyo” before you go . . .
It’s my birthday week, so I send you greetings from a new year. I’m back in Buenos Aires (I’ll fill you in on the rest of the Forever Young European tour later!).
For my actual birthday, I was able to have an intimate dinner at my apartment with a few close friends in Buenos Aires. My friends are scattered all over in California, the Northeast, Brazil and Europe. On birthdays, I’m nostalgic for times in San Francisco when my birthday parties were full of long-term friends. But really I am lucky to be able to have dinner with a few dear souls here in Buenos Aires.
Over the birthday dinner, I read my hopes for the next year, what I accomplished over the last year, and “what I know” – it was wonderful to be witnessed in my hopes and dreams and also for what I’ve accomplished in the last year. I recommend this kind of reflection–and sharing it with others to be witnessed–as a ritual for your birthday.
Over the dinner we had a fabulous conversation about what it’s like to be single expat without children living far from family or our roots. We were talking not only about our own personal situations but about this historical moment that we find ourselves in.
For those of us who are not following the traditional formula of what it means to be a woman (being a wife and mother, the caretaker of others) our lives can feel a bit off the map of the media and social media—the pressure might be as much internal as external when you don’t see your own reality reflected back to you very often. Facebook and Instagram can be a confrontational landmine with all those happy family and kid photos from friends. Even though I am well aware of how hard it is to be a mother, and I generally feel at peace with my decision, I still sometimes wonder, hmmm, am I missing out? Am I way off track here? What about MEEEE?
My anthropologist friend pointed out that it’s extremely recent in the history of humanity that any great number of women have been free to construct lives outside of the identity of caretaker. (Let’s say women’s participation in the workforce really took off in the last half of the 20th century. It’s not as if this revolution toward equality is complete—women still earn less than men and we assume women will be the primary caretakers of children and aging parents, or that women have an instinctive relationship with babies. If a woman doesn’t relate to babies or her baby, that’s seen as weird; a father doesn’t bond with a baby, well, that’s not his thing.)
It’s no wonder that a lot of us feel self-doubt about our paths through life, even if we come off as confident and having it all together.
We are pioneers in the big picture of herstory.
That’s what conversations like these are so valuable. That’s why we need each other.
I’ve been thinking a lot about companionship and community lately. As much as I love and need solitude, I also need committed relationships that provide companionship. Loneliness has become the modern epidemic. (Read this fantastic story on “All the Lonely People” for more.)
Facebook aims to fill the gap with “presence” and “community” but actually I find Facebook often tends to make us more distant from each other because people send a chat message or leave a comment rather than call. Social media can facilitate in-person connection but it can also create a lot of shallow relationships. (I believe that some more authentic online communities such as Gateway Women, o or online classes I have taught, can cut loneliness and bring people together—but it has to be an online community where you feel safe to be authentic and real.)
We all need to have some degree of companionship and commitment from others. One big attraction of a committed romantic relationship is that it’s committed. It’s not casual. It’s not, hey, I’ll show up for you if it’s convenient. It’s, I will show up for you. You show up for each other in times of need. If I get cancer, if I need help financially, and so on.
Many people–50% at any given time–are single in the US, for example.
Even if we really do want to be in a committed romantic relationship, how can we also create those kinds of commitments with friends? How do we create a feeling of being loved and solidly held with our friends too? What forms of support do you have in place and treasure, what do you appreciate?
We need other models for committed relationship. We are the pioneers, so what will those look like? One person won’t have all the answers. Many people will. I wonder what thoughts you have on the topic. What works for you in terms of companionship and support, or what do you wish for more of in your life?
I’m also going to be exploring the concept of a private, supportive online community–quirkytogether, if you will, where important and nourishing real conversations like this can take place and people can also meet each other, online and off. Having met many of you as my clients through coaching, my online classes, and the Tango Adventure, I know this is an ideal community for such supportive, nourishing, life conversations–and I’ll be asking for your thoughts on what a community could provide soon too.
the cobbler who saved my shoes in Kolasin, Montenegro
A cap on my right tango shoe came off I discovered this afternoon, leaving the right heel wobbly and unstable. I danced about ten songs on it in the afternoon practica but I didn’t feel confident that I wouldn’t injure my ankle–and a sprained ankle is a big setback. I learned how much a sprained ankle can set you back from four months of physical therapy last year.
I asked one of the assistants in the Summer Tango Camp if there was a cobbler in town who fixed heels. The guy told me yes but only on Mondays and Tuesdays. It’s Thursday so that would be of no use. (What kind of work ethic is that? says this American.) This guy offered no more help and went back to staring at his phone.
I went walking in the streets of Kolasin, this mountain town in Montenegro (in the Balkans, just south of Croatia) where I have been staying for two weeks. I asked the nail salon woman if anyone in town fixed shoes. She did my eyebrows and pedicure so she seemed like a good local to start with. She pointed me two kilometers down the road. It’s very hot, and very sunny, and I did not feel like walking two kilometers in the midday sun. I went into a shoe shop thinking I would look for sneakers with smooth soles to pivot on but for some reason I felt inspired to ask them if they fixed heels.
“No, we only sell shoes,” the saleslady said, but she pointed me to a cobbler 100 meters away! A hundred meters–now that’s my kind of distance to walk in the afternoon heat! I found a lovely guy with a nondescript storefront who fixes shoes. They should be ready at 7:15 and if he does a good job I can keep dancing.
So reminded that it is all about persistence. Everything.
Epiphanies come and go. But the main thing, usually, is keep going. So keep going.
(Written during the Kolasin, Montenegro Summer Tango Camp. We didn’t actually camp, we stayed in hotels or houses. We–700 people–all came together for days and days of dancing, hiking, archery, tango learning, and meeting people from all over the world. An incredible event. You should come to the Summer Tango Camp + the Tango Adventure of course!)
Ibiza (pronounce it Ibi-tha), an island off the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean, was stop three on my Forever Young Tour of Europe and it’s another one of those places that a friend’s invitation brought me to. I never imagined visiting Ibiza. If I thought about Ibiza, I pictured massive, throbbing nightclubs. That image was not so off. While on the island I noticed that you could buy club tickets at ATMs and I learned that the RyanAir flights to the island could already be drunken scenes. Someone I met told me about a couple even having sex in a seat on the airplane. Luckily my flight from Brussels to Ibiza was relatively tame, and there’s another side to Ibiza beyond the Las Vegas-style party scene.
Ibiza has a party reputation but I knew that if Jody Day was inviting me to join her birthday celebration on Ibiza there must be another side to the island and there is. Jody is a woman on a mission very similar to mine. Jody started Gateway Women, a community and blog and wrote a book with the express purpose of helping women who don’t have children but who wanted to heal their grief and create a Plan B for a fulfilling life without kids. Our work overlaps since I help women own their self-worth and create fulfilling lives on their own terms with or without a man—quirkyalone or quirkytogether.
I reached out to Jody a couple of years ago after I landed on her website–when I checked out her work, I thought, whoah, this woman and I need to meet! We became friends over Skype. (You can see this interview Jody did with me about “motherhood ambivalence” a few years ago where we get into all kinds of interesting taboo topics that are rarely talked about.)
When I posted on Facebook that I would be coming to Europe in July and August 2017, Jody reached out to invite me to visit her in London or Ibiza for her birthday. I chose the birthday on Ibiza, because, hey, fun, right? So the very first time we met in person was at the airport when Jody picked me up. How amazing was that?!
Jody, her friends and I spent five days together to celebrate her birthday. We got to do things together that you just can’t do over Skype, like go shopping for Ibiza-style fashion, laze on the beach in our bikinis with coffee topped with whipped cream and spend a day on a sailboat to celebrate Jody’s birthday.
not sure it gets better than this . . .
on the boat!
I often had to pinch myself to believe that we were getting this chance to connect in person in such a beautiful place. One night we visited a side of the island where revelers from all over Europe come to go to nightclubs. Like Las Vegas, that side of Ibiza is not my scene, but it was fun to see from an anthropological, traveling perspective. My favorite moment there was sunset, when the bar played classical music to mark the dip of the sun below the horizon and the sun and party-seekers all ritualistically gather to clap for the transition from day to night.
watching the sunset watchers to classical music as the earth eats the sun
Luckily Ibiza also has a hippie, chill, new-agey side. The other side of Ibiza appears to be international, the kind of people who do yoga and also party–say, they would not shy away from the hallucinogenic tea of Ayahuasca for spiritual expansion. Ibiza is also home to Esvedra, a rock area that is said to have electromagnetic healing properties like Sedona.
Through Jody I got to meet some wonderful women—her friend Selina Ingram from Wales who has lived in San Francisco and Las Vegas, and now lives in Ibiza. Selina organizes fundraisers for low-income people on the VIP Ibiza and calls her group on Ibiza “phenomenal women.” (You’ll be hearing more about my own version of the PW later this year . . . you’ll see us talking about that in the video below.)
I wish you could just eavesdrop on all the conversations that Jody and I had over the five days we spent together at the beach, by the pool, over wine, and on a sailboat trip to celebrate her birthday. . .I’ll give you a few of the highlights as I remember them. We talked about everything from how being single for most of her forties helped Jody get to know herself and prepare herself to have the healthiest happiest relationship she’s been in now in her fifties. We talked about the lonely sides of solo travel and what one can make to do to make solo travel more social. We talked too about how women can be “overwarned” about the dangers of travel. For example, when Jody came to the US a year ago with the dream of driving Highway 1 up the coast of California, people warned her about terrible US drivers. I wondered what they were talking about. For me drivers in the US are fine. Jody didn’t let the overwarning stop her.
In my opinion, the real danger is letting other people’s fear-based projections scare you out of enjoying and living your life.
I’ve been hearing about the Belgian city of Gent for seven years now since I met my friend Griet. Griet and I met in a hostel in Cali, Colombia, the world capital of salsa, in 2010. She asked me to go out to a tango club the week we met–and the rest is his(her)story. We recognized each other as kindred spirits and we wound up spending the next two months together taking tango classes, and then, we went to Buenos Aires together for two months to discover the “real stuff” of tango together in Argentina.
Through it all, over many coffees and bottles of wine, we talked about where we had come from and where we were going. We had both quit jobs that didn’t feel true to ourselves to open ourselves to what would come next. For me that was the fast-paced, screen-obsessed world of Silicon Valley that I felt was more bent on addicting people to make money through advertising than anything else (I felt then just as Tristan Harris does now–as he sounds the alarm that most technology companies are working to drain our attention spans for their benefit and not our own), and for Griet that was organizing activities at a community center. We were both single back then, and many times, Griet told me, “Just come to Gent. We’ll find you a nice Belgian man!” She also described Gent as very cute.
Griet changed the course of my life by bringing me into tango, and just by being herself, a woman of high vitality who always says things like, “If I’m really honest. . . ” From Griet I learned that a turned-on life based on things you really want to do and embody begins with the phrase, “If I’m really honest. . . ” So I knew, when I planned this trip, I would have to visit her in the famous Gent! It had been five years since our last meeting in Asheville, North Carolina. This would be our fourth country, and our third continent, since we met in Colombia, then in Argentina, then in the U.S. five years later, and now, in Belgium!
the reunion of sasha and griet in gent!
Much has changed in both of our lives. Now I live in Buenos Aires (not Silicon Valley) where I have a tango business combining the dance with coaching (I also coach people one-on-one on everything from career to sexuality and write). Griet settled down with a man, and has a two-year-old with another baby on the way after opening a vegetarian restaurant. So I was excited to go and see Griet again. I expected our reunion would be great. I had no idea what to expect of Gent.
Belgium itself is vague in the imagination. The headquarters for the EU, Belgium always seemed to me a small place sandwiched between France and the Netherlands with no big personality of its own. I knew Belgium was split in two parts: people speak French in the south and Flemish in the north. I mistakenly thought Flemish was a language of its own. In my week in Gent, I realized Flemish is actually Dutch–a revelation on its own! In a lot of ways much of Belgium seems quite similar to the Netherlands. But it’s a small country between two big countries. I can identify with small places, having grown up in Rhode Island. I know there’s a special power in being the underdog, overlooked place.
So Belgium?! Gent?! What was it all about? People don’t really think about Belgium much–you have your Belgian fries and your Belgian beer, but beyond that, what can you say about Belgium? I would soon find out with Griet.
gorgeous Gent on my first night
On our first night we went out for a bike ride around Gent after Griet’s son was asleep. Already I was feeling bowled over by the beauty of the residential streets where Griet lived. Very simple, row houses of different hues, and most of the houses had bikes parked in front of them. It was like an alternative universe where instead of cars parked outside (though there were some) you had bikes parked outside with locks built into the structure of the bikes and the tires. Often the bikes had baby seats on them. Some of them were bikes built for two. To an outsider Gent looked like it was going through a baby boom where all the parents rode around with small children on their bikes.
the bikes in gent!
We biked past canals on bike lanes (reminiscent of my trip to Amsterdam 20 years ago) on bikes with big bags on either side of the wheels in the back. All the bikes in Gent had these bags. Then we arrived downtown and to put it mildly I was stunned. The city center of Gent is a gem. I was expecting “cute” from Griet and Gent was actually beautiful. Maybe this is part of the Belgian personality: modesty. The French have their rakish charm, the Belgians are more humble. I find that small places often have that quality. The Uruguyans too are modest and approachable compared to Argentines. (Small place next to big country.)
Gent is not so small. The city has 250,000 people and the city center is large. Here’s what Lonely Planet says: “Here hides one of Europe’s finest panoramas of water, spires and centuries-old grand houses.” I would add to that, canals, bikes, cute people, and lots of biological (organic) cheese. Gent is a kind of fantasy of urban planning: small houses, bikes, small families on bikes, and tons of organic food everywhere. Seriously, if you are looking for a great, livable, more than cute city, Gent is the one.
biological cheese! bio, or biological, means organic in Europe. Gent abounds with cute bio places.
One our first night, we went to a bar that is famous for catering to travelers. I got a mojito, Griet got a virgin mojito since she’s pregnant. We started to catch up, finally getting to the man situation for me. Would I need Griet to find me that Belgian man? I told her about the latest in my love life and after that a guy a few tables over waved us over. He was an American, obviously–we had overheard him. He was from Dallas by way of New York and his mother had started a magazine in Belgium which somehow got him established in Gent. He had been living there for years and loved it.
The American gave us his critique of Gent: “mundane.” He thought life could be mundane in Gent because everyone was expected to settle down with a partner, buy a house, and pop out a kid or two. Of course that’s what Griet had done. She agreed with the critique–that life in Gent could be mundane.
I asked Griet if she thought I would feel isolated since I’m not married and don’t have children. She thought not.
I wasn’t sure if mundane was so bad when you have bikes, biological cheese, and beautiful canals.
Would it be mundane to live in Gent? So what is life in Gent like? For now I can’t really know, but here are some pictures to show you how fabulously cute–and beautiful–the city is.
Just one of the many bikes with child on board. So many versions of accommodating parent and child.
we ate them all!
Griet ate some Belgian fries too!
chairs at the cafe at voorhut, an old socialist hall transformed into a modern cultural center
Hey, I'm Sasha Cagen. I'm here to help you remember there is nothing wrong you if you are single. I'm the author of Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics, To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soulmate, What Our Lists Reveal about Us and a life coach. I help single women stay true to themselves, never settle, and have fun.
Sasha Cagen is the author of the cult favorite Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics and To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. Her work as a writer, coach and movement-builder has been featured everywhere from NPR and the New York Times to CNN and Vogue.
In her well-loved newsletter going to thousands who identify with "quirkyalone," Sasha is the voice for people who don't want to settle--in any area of life.
In her coaching practice, Sasha helps smart, successful women (and men) get clear on their goals and achieve them while always helping her clients focus on core issues such as self-worth.
Through her Tango Adventures, she helps people go deep in the authentic tango scene of Buenos Aires while using tango as a mirror and a metaphor to help each person discover what tango has to teach them.